LUANDA (Reuters) - Angola’s President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos said on Tuesday relations with Portugal were unhealthy, reflecting tensions in a planned “strategic partnership” between Africa’s number two oil producer and its former colonial ruler.
Portugal is Angola’s main source of imports and Portuguese companies are very active in banking and construction in the huge African country. In turn, Angolan investors have snapped up large stakes in top Lisbon-listed companies.
Angola is second only to Nigeria as an African oil producer and its rapid growth has given Portuguese firms and workers opportunities to escape severe economic problems at home.
But relations between the two states were “not well,” Dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979, told parliament.
“There have appeared contradictions at the level of the leadership and the current political climate in the relationship does not advise the construction of the strategic partnership,” he said.
The Portuguese government said in a statement that it had listened to Dos Santos’ comments “with surprise”, but reiterated the importance of what it believes is a good relationship between the two countries.
Tensions became apparent last month after Portuguese Foreign Minister Rui Machete apologized for legal probes by Lisbon into business deals involving senior Angolan officials.
Angolan state-owned newspaper Jornal de Angola, seen as a mouthpiece for the ruling MPLA party, has published editorials criticizing the Portuguese justice system and media and slamming the country’s elite as “ignorant and corrupt”.
A bilateral summit planned for later this month has been postponed to February.
Markus Weimer, senior analyst for Africa at consultancy Control Risks, said Dos Santos’ comments may not have great immediate impact, but in the longer-term Portuguese building firms could miss out on lucrative contracts.
Angola’s main opposition party UNITA criticized the comments and Dos Santos’ weak record against corruption.
“Portugal is denouncing some acts of corruption and for a corrupt state like Angola this does not go down well,” UNITA Secretary-General Vitorino Nhany told reporters.
Transparency International ranks Angola among the most corrupt countries in the world, but Dos Santos rejected such accusations.
“There is deliberate confusion made by organizations in Western countries to intimidate Africans who want to build assets and wealth; generally it is to create the image that the rich African man is corrupt,” he said.
British, French and American companies in the oil sector and Portuguese banks were draining billions of dollars out of Angola every year, he said.
Alex Vines, an Angola expert at London-based think tank Chatham House, said diplomacy would be required to heal the relationship between the two nations.
“Angola’s efforts to increase transparency and disclosure could help ... but international investors are saying that the business environment is getting tougher even for established companies,” he added.
Dos Santos said his government had cut its economic growth estimate for 2013 to 5.1 percent from 7.1 percent due to a long drought, lower-than-expected growth in the oil sector, “bad management” of public debt and a weak global economy.
Additional reporting by Daniel Alvarenga in Lisbon; Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa, Andrew Roche and Barry Moody